Christmas dinner would not be complete without a traditional Christmas pudding to round off proceedings. Best brought in aflame and decorated with holly, a good Christmas pud is made months in advance (at least!) and should be dense with fruit – yet light enough to manage after your roast turkey – with a nice amount of spicing and a pleasant boozy flavour.
We may have become a nation of bakers under lockdown, but if you’ve not made your own as this year there’s a plethora of perfect puddings just waiting to take pride of place on your Christmas table.
But first consider your Christmas pudding preferences: nuts or no nuts? Are we sticking with the classic vine fruits or do you have an appetite for a flavour update? Is brandy your top tipple, or is gin, cider, or even amaretto providing your Christmas spirit this year?
And consider who you’re feeding: excellent gluten free and vegan puddings are making their mark this year with bakes the whole family will enjoy so there is no need to buy separate desserts.
We tried around 25 Christmas puddings to compile this list of the best, looking for offerings that were still recognisable as a traditional pudding – none of this festive bombe business – which required a high fruit content and the classic pudding basin shape.
Puddings were steamed as per the instructions before being put through their paces for flavour, texture, quality of ingredients and overall enjoyment.
With varieties ranging from good old fashioned raisins, sultanas, apples and suet soaked in fine Cognac, to a fabulous sourdough pudding and even a chocolate orange version of the fruity favourite, there is a Christmas pudding to satisfy everyone this year. Pass the brandy butter.
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Rick Stein Padstow Christmas pudding, 907g
But of course Rick has made a lovely pudding; of course he has. This one came out top with all of our testers thanks to its perfectly executed classic flavours – there’s fruit, a welcome fine nuttiness, a hint of booze and it is light enough for seconds. We found this Christmas pudding was beautifully soft textured and its flavour profile was well balanced. Raisins and sultanas – the only fruits used – are soaked in stout which provides a great body, then the pudding is gently humming with rum. A shining example in a traditional earthenware dish.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 18 month matured Christmas pudding 800g
This is quite a cakey pudding, which while having an extremely fruit content – sultanas, currants, raisins, cherries, candied peel – has a closer, springier texture than some puddings, where the individual fruits are quite distinct and loosely packed. There’s a lovely lightness to this as the stout or beer traditionally used has been swapped for cider, which gives a modern yet festive flavour. We also liked the generosity with other liquor too: sherry, rum and a very nice Cognac all feature and are all the better for having been maturing for 18 months.
Tiptree Organic Christmas pudding boxed, 454g
Tiptree, the nice fruit preserves company, has made an uber-traditional Christmas pud– but with a citrus twist to delight Paddington and pudding lovers alike. Each organic pudding is hand filled with a delicious concoction of spiced, cider and Cognac-soaked sultanas, currants, raisins and mixed peel before being swirled with thick-cut Tawny orange marmalade.
Properly steamed, the result is a sweet and squidgy, jammy pudding ,well-scented with Christmassy clove. This is the only pudding that came with a helpful ribbon for lifting it out of the steam, and was well wrapped in muslin and packed into an earthenware dish. A sticky, jammy pleasure of a pudding.
M&S Collection chocolate and orange Christmas pudding, 800g
This was divisive, as you might expect when combining a vine-fruited Christmas pudding with chocolate, but those that loved it really loved it. Some (misguided) people aren’t into a standard Christmas pudding, so this chocolate orange variety from M&S may be the answer for a harmonious Christmas Day dessert that still feels traditional.
Featuring all the usual goodies – sultanas, currants, raisins, cherries, peel, brandy – but with Belgian chocolate chunks added into the mix and a hidden molten chocolate and orange liqueur sauce oozing from the middle. Everyone agreed it tastes and looks very luxurious, with lots of rich, festive flavours and really looks the part, being attractively decorated with candied orange slices around the edge.
Melrose and Morgan traditional Christmas pudding, 454g
Melrose and Morgan’s London delis are a treasure-trove of lovely things to eat, and the good news is that you don’t need to be local to enjoy its Christmas goodies this year. This light, golden, Christmas pudding has lots of lovely orchard flavours complemented by citrus, plenty of ginger and a lorry load of vine fruits, cherries and apricot.
We absolutely love the use of Brentwood Brewery’s GF Chockwork orange beer which gives a hoppy orange lift to the pudding without overdoing the boozy notes, and it features ground almonds instead of whole nuts or chunks, which lends luxury and lightness. Serve with its ridiculously moreish Somerset Cider brandy butter to best effect.
Asda extra special 9 month matured luxury christmas pudding, 907g
An impressive one from Asda this year. Despite its relatively short (in supermarket terms, anyway) maturation, this pudding comes with bags of flavour and a very palpable wafting of Cognac. The fruits – sultanas, raisins, cherries and candied peels – are many, and there is a nice mix of chopped almonds, pecans and walnuts for that classic Christmas pudding texture. It tastes fancy and holds together well and for £7 there’s no way you could replicate something as good yourself. A steal.
Selfridges selection project Earth festive cherry and amaretto Christmas pudding, 450g
Here Selfridges has tweaked the traditional Christmas pudding recipe by swapping out the mixed peel and mixed spice for double the amount of cherries and a hefty dose of whole almonds, giving the pudding a bit of a cherry bakewell makeover.
Purple cherries and fat vine fruit engorged with rum make up the body of the pudding; once steamed and turned out the domed top glistens with sweet cherries and even more almonds. The amaretto is unmistakable – though it tends to be a love it or hate it flavour – and it all feels very festive. A great alternative to the traditional while still in keeping with the spirit and classic flavours: serve with lashings of cream.
Waitrose Heston sherry and balsamic vinegar Christmas pudding, 800g
Heston’s been at it again, messing around in the kitchen to put the twist nobody knew they wanted on our Christmas classics. This, then, is a traditional fruited and spiced Christmas pudding that has been given the Blumenthal treatment with some Pedro Ximenez sherry and aged balsamic vinegar. And it works.
The pudding has a soft, cakey texture which is generously fruited with raisins and sultanas – there are no nuts or cherries so the texture is fine and uniform. The sherry gives a sophisticated, dark warmth (there’s ruby port and cider in there too apparently) and we are happy to report there is no discernible vinegar flavour, rather it just takes the edge off the sweetness. Good with ice cream, we reckon.
Iceland 12 month matured Christmas pudding, 400g
A well-matured pudding chock-a-block with big juicy cherry halves, raisins, sultanas, currants, this is a strong entry from Iceland this year. There’s a gratifyingly strong brandy character – plus cider soaked fruit – and plenty of festive spicing together with much zestiness, so this is no wallflower of a Christmas pudding. Whole almonds are mixed in, with shards of pecan, making its £4 price tag something of a Christmas miracle.
Aldi specially selected 30 month matured Christmas pudding, 907g
This looks, smells and tastes extremely expensive, with only the plastic packaging giving away the fact this is not an artisanal bakery-made pudding, but picked up from Aldi for under a tenner. Having said that, Aldi says this pudding is made by the oldest pudding maker in the world (!) with the key to its beauty being the 30-month maturation. Indeed, the flavour is rich and complex, fruits are packed in to the rafters – Turkish sultanas, fancy Greek currants, plums, cranberries, cherries – and four different kinds of booze help things along significantly.
The freely poured rum, brandy, port and aged Armagnac meant this pudding was too obviously alcoholic for our younger testers, but adults will love the combination of aged spirits, whole fruits and big chunky nuts. Extremely luxurious, but can you manage something so defiantly rich after your Christmas lunch?
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Slab Bakery vegan luxury mulled gin Christmas pudding, 454g
This pudding from specialist free-from bakers, Slab Bakery, scored highly with all of our testers thanks to its plump cider-soaked fruits and lovely sweet gingerbready flavour. The texture is unusual, but not to its detriment and without studying the ingredients list you wouldn’t know it was gluten free, wheat free, refined sugar free and vegan.
This pudding is filled with owner Lesley’s own-recipe mulled gin, which adds a festive mulled nod to the flavour rather than an overriding alcoholic profile, as in some puddings. Whether your diners are gluten free or not, this pudding is delicious and will go down well with all. The packaging is plastic free, too.
Twelve Triangles sourdough Christmas pudding, 400g
Twelve Triangles is a mini-chain of five bakeries in Edinburgh that specialises in cold prove, slow ferment, small-batch sourdough baking. When lockdown came along it regrouped and launched an online shop for its wares; now it delivers nationwide so wherever you are in the country you can enjoy this unique take on the classic Christmas pudding. Golden in colour with a light, bready texture not unlike bread pudding, this is one for people who say they don’t like Christmas pudding.
While all the traditional flavours are there: brandy, vine fruits, spice, there’s also a distinctive sourdough tang and exciting additions of lemon, figs, apricot and quince. The result is a citrus scented figgy joy encased in an enamel pudding dish. This pudding also sported the most beautiful packaging, wrapped in muslin, ribbon-tied and complete with a festive nosegay and handwritten tag.
Wright’s Christmas pwdin nadolig medium, 500g
Wright’s food emporium, a café and deli in South West Wales, has knocked it out the park with this fruity Christmas pudding. Handmade and packed full of fruit and notes, we really enjoyed finding hearty walnut pieces nestled in the sweet, port and rummy mix of currants, raisins, sultanas, dates and pieces of apple. Using the traditional stout for soaking, this pudding has a great body and a dark sticky sweetness from black treacle without overpowering any one flavour. It arrives ready for steaming in a traditional pudding basin and would be perfect with some seasonally boozy cream.
Meg Rivers gin Christmas pudding, 800g
We are big Meg Rivers fans and having tasted this gin infused Christmas pudding, now even bigger. There is no messing about with the booze in this pudding: having replaced the traditional brandy with Cotswold dry gin, we can all agree that Meg Rivers did not come to play. The botanicals of the gin interplay with the carefully selected pudding spices of coriander, caraway, clove and cardamom and the upfront lemon peel, zest and juice flavours all add up to a refreshing G&T in a pudding. Traditionalists never fear, the fruit content is high and with raisins, sultanas and currants packed to the brim the classic festive flavours are never far away. Little walnut nibs and crystallised ginger add interest.
The verdict: Christmas puddings
Christmas is a time for tradition, so we’ve picked a classic for our winner in the Rick Stein Padstow pudding which simply cannot be faulted with its dark fruits and indulgent rum flavour. If you’re searching for more of a bargain, then the supermarket puds are all great performers this year – take your pick. For something less classic, the Meg Rivers gets our vote for their clever gin balancing act.
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